Transport America Driving Team Strives for Excellence
Joy Stewart and James Crossno talk about their passion for excellence, and how they got their start as a driving team for Transport America.
Question: What makes for a great driving team?
If you’ve ever entertained the idea of forming a driving team with another driver, you might want to look at the team of Joy Stewart and James Crossno.
While both have only been driving for a relatively short time (up to four years), this Transport America duo demonstrates what it takes to not only make a living, but what it takes to actually transform an entire industry.
So what’s their secret?
It’s a singular vision to being the very best at what they do.
It’s a lesson that we could all learn from.
Joy Stewart, from Lewisburg, Tennessee, and James Crossno, from Connelly Springs, North Carolina, drive as an over-the-road team for Transport America, and they’ve proved themselves to be one unstoppable pair.
They typically spend eight weeks on the road followed by a few days off to catch up with bills and other necessities of living, and then they’re back out again for another long haul. Joy typically drives the day shift from 3 a.m to 3 p.m. and James tends to drive the night shift 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. – incorporating an appropriate amount of time for breaks and downtime within each of their shifts to meet the federal regulations for an 11-hour workday.
“Being punctual and never turning down a load has made us stand out to our planners and fleet leaders,” said James. “That’s how we’ve tried to shake up team driving.” On and off the road, James and Joy are helping to change trucking.
Before they were drivers
Prior to driving for Transport America, James had been a pet groomer for 25 years, the last 16 of which he owned a pet grooming business. When his children had grown up, James started to wonder about what it would be like to become a truck driver. After all, he had dreamed about driving an 18-wheeler since he was a kid.
“There just came a point where I had to act on this dream,” says James. So, he entered Alliance Driving Academy in Hendersonville, North Carolina, and shortly thereafter secured a driving position with Transport America.
“My favorite part about trucking is getting the job done,” James says. “When I’m off the road I like to crack jokes and make people laugh, but when I’m on the road and on the clock I take my job very seriously, especially when it comes to safety.”
Before Joy started driving three years ago, she worked for a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary as a chemical process operator. While Joy hadn’t dreamed of being a truck driver like James, she felt a sense of restlessness with her current job.
“My sister has been driving for 10 years and she got me to think about truck driving as a possible career transition,” Joy says. “One day, she suggested that I go out with her for a couple weeks to see if I liked driving.”
“And you know what,” Joy adds, “I really liked it.”
Joy enrolled with Superior Driver’s Institute in Columbia, Tenn., and after successfully completing her CDL exam, signed on with Transport America.
“When I drive, I feel like I’m making a difference,” she says.
Joy’s sister, also a driver for Transport America, connected Joy and James. James had already been driving solo for a year, and wanted to switch over to team.
As they say, the rest is history.
A Drive toward Excellence
To Joy and James, the three most important things that are needed to successfully drive as a team are communication, preparation and, of course, safety.
Together, they boil it all down to the concept of excellence; they strive for excellence in everything they do.
“I don’t try to be the best Transport America driver, in fact, I don’t want to be the best Transport America driver,” James admits. “I just want to be the best driver that I can be, and I want the company to be the best it can be. And I know that Joy believes in the same thing because we’ve talked about it a lot. This is who we’re going to be as a team.”
James and Joy make it very clear that being a team isn’t just the drivers. It extends to the fleet leader, the planner, the mechanic and everyone else who helps them keep the wheels of their truck rolling.
“It’s important to talk to your fleet leader, planner and safety manager. Even if you mess up, you should always be honest to the people with whom work with you,” says James. “For example, in speaking with your safety manager, just tell them straight up what happened. They are there to help you. They’re on your side. They want to help you prevent problems in the future. That’s why communication is so important to our success.”
“Together, with our fleet leader Barb Atkinson, our planner, Branden Haskew, our safety manager, and everyone else who supports us,” adds Joy, “including the company’s mechanics, we roll as one team.”
“For example, we have an agreement between us,” says Joy. “Regardless of whether the other person who is not driving is sleeping or busy doing something else, if the driver of the truck needs something, they just call. That’s for help with backing up, making a safety inspection, verifying a destination, you name it. Trust is the bedrock of our team driving partnership.”
Both team members also stress that they must never become complacent in learning new skills. That, in fact, while they may be relatively new to truck driving, that continuously learning to master the skills of being a professional truck driver is critical to their ongoing success.
“One late night, when I was still a solo driver,” recalls James, “I admitted to an older driver that I was still a rookie. He told me, ‘I’m still a rookie too. I’ve been driving for 36 years, but I still think of myself as a rookie. The day I start thinking that I know everything is the day I will start making big mistakes.’”
“What he said really stuck with me,” says James. “There’s something about being a new driver – that awareness of doing things the right way, by the book. Not taking any shortcuts because you think you know best. That’s how me and Joy approach our work — you should always ask for help, and never think that you know everything about this job.”
Off the Road
While Joy and James are used to many weeks on the road, they make good use of their downtime.
Both drivers have their own Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and like to ride through the scenic of the Deep South. James lives about eight hours away from Joy, but they often meet to drive in the open air together along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Joy rides a Harley Freewheeler, while James kicks back with a Heritage Softail.
Getting to know your driving partner better is important to them, just like getting to know other Transport America drivers. If the two stop at a Transport America support center and have time, they like to cook food for everyone who’s around — mechanics, office workers, other drivers, everybody. James usually grills barbeque chicken, shrimp, and makes his signature baked beans, and Joy will make pasta salad and mac and cheese—enough to feed a small army of hungry Transport America employees and owner-operators.
Their goal? To make sure everyone is full, and give truck drivers a chance to get to know each other.
“Truck driving can be a lonely job. We try to get people to talk about their personal lives, their passions and work, and just let people socialize,” says James.
“When we bring food, it seems to really help build community and boost morale,” Joy says.
“We want to make Transport America more like family because I like working with Transport America, I love Transport America,” James says. “My veins bleed diesel fuel first, and then Transport America.”
In the foreseeable future, Joy and James will continue to pursue excellence in their driving. Their commitment to the work, and their collective willingness to connect with others helps Transport America drivers stand out among the driving community.
Editor’s Note: Joy and James wish to say a special thanks to Barb Atkinson, their fleet leader, and Branden Haskew, their main planner, as well as all of their “extended family” in Transport America’s Birmingham support center for contributing to their success.